Israel Museum guide starts with the basics (map, tickets, parking), and then tours exhibitions (including Dead Sea Scrolls). Let’s begin!
Note: recently we made a day trip to Jerusalem. And most of that day was dedicated to Israel Museum in Jerusalem, plus we made a night walk in the Old City. And this post is the result of that visit.
The Israel Museum was established in 1965 as Israel’s national museum. It is situated on a hill in the Givat Ram neighborhood of Jerusalem, adjacent to the Bible Lands Museum, the Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Among the unique objects on display are the Venus of Berekhat Ram; the interior of a 1736 Zedek ve-Shalom synagogue from Suriname; necklaces worn by Jewish brides in Yemen; a mosaic Islamic prayer niche from 17th-century Persia; and a nail attesting to the practice of crucifixion in Jesus’ time. An urn-shaped building on the grounds of the museum, the Shrine of the Book, houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and artifacts discovered at Masada. It is one of the largest museums in the region.
Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday: 10 am – 5 pm
Tuesday: 4 pm – 9 pm – Free entrance for children under 18
Friday and Holiday Eves: 10 am – 2 pm
Saturday: 10:30 am – 4 pm – Free entrance for children under 18
Holidays: 10:00 am – 5 pm
Entrance fee is 54 NIS per adult and 39 NIS per student. You can buy tickets in advance and skip the line. You can purchase them either on the official site or here, and I will get a small commission).
If you want to purchase tickets for kids (5-17 years old), pensioners, and disabled then you can not do it on the official site and can buy it only at the cash register.
The price of the entrance ticket also includes an audio guide (available in different languages). And there are also free guided tours from time to time, but we will get to it a little later.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in May 2019. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
I have not found many different coupons for the Israeli Museum. The best deal I saw was offered by Leumi Credit Card owners, where you could purchase 1+1 tickets for 54 NIS. But these deals change over time, so check if your credit card firm offers any related deals.
The Museum offers a range of guided tours. Most, if not all, are free to join. You need to be in the right place at the right time. You can ask for additional guidance at the entrance.
There are usually two types of tours. Tours that are dedicated to a specific wing, and highlights tours. And the tours are in a variety of languages including Hebrew, English, Spanish, French, and Russian. To see the updated timetable visit the official site.
Israel Museum is located at Derech Ruppin 11, Jerusalem.
Map of the area:
Israel Museum is not massive, but quite large. And you can easily spend a whole day there. Here is its plan of the complex:
The entrance is in the bottom left corner (next to the arrow and #1). Then you can see the galleries (orange, blue navy, turquoise, and purple). And in the bottom part, you can see the park with sculptures, Shrine of the Book (#16 and #17) and Second Temple Model (#19).
As I always say: come early. We did not follow this rule (due to morning errands) and regretted it. Inside the museum, we did not feel there was a large number of people, but the parking was quite problematic. After waiting in line to the museum parking (that is located just beside the entrance) for about 20 minutes, I made a u-turn and parked next to the museum’s rear entrance (Nakhman Avigad and Avraham Granot streets). There was plenty of free parking there, and it is only 10-15 min walk.
The museum offers a variety of events, including family activities, special events, gallery talks, and so on. Most of them are in Hebrew and English, and they come at an extra cost. You can find the updated event list here.
A Brief History Of Humankind
The first temporary exhibition in the Israel Museum we saw called: “A Brief History of Humankind.”
Here is what they say about it at the official site:
This exhibition, inspired by Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, invites the public to a journey exploring some of the crucial moments in the history of humankind through pivotal objects from the Museum’s encyclopedic collections. Spanning a timeline of hundreds of thousands of years, the items on view include archaeological objects dating to the dawn of civilization shown side-by-side with cutting-edge works of contemporary art.
The exhibition’s narrative, articulated as three major chapters, revolves around three significant turning points in the evolution of human civilization. The Cognitive Revolution — the advent of language and communication, which enabled Homo sapiens to survive and form complex societies. The Agricultural Revolution — humanity’s first steps towards the evolution of settled civilization, laying the foundations for modern society. And the Industrial Revolution — a time of rapid scientific and technological developments that ushered in the contemporary era.
“A Brief History of Humankind” discusses
and starts with the first steps:
Skull comparison: Homo sapiens (left) and Neanderthal (right)
Creation of the family was an important evolution step:
Globalization is currently the last step:
One of the exciting items in this exhibition was Albert Einstein’s “The Special Theory of Relativity”:
That is the original document from 1912. Here is a close up:
What the future holds? Maybe this:
Then we went to the archaeology wing.
The entrance hall:
In the first hall you can also find the Coin Treasure from Caesarea National Park:
A group of divers from the diving club in the harbor reported the find to the Antiquities Authority. Officials from Antiquities Authority then went with the divers to the location with a metal detector and uncovered almost 2,000 gold coins from the Fatimid period (11th century CE) in various denominations: dinars, half dinars, and quarter dinars, of various dimensions and weight.
Note: all quotes, unless stated otherwise were taken from the official site.
The divers found this treasure quite recently, in Feb 2015.
Engraved horse on Limestone (Hayonim Cave, Upper Palaeolithic):
A human figure, early Natufian culture, 14,000 years ago:
Goddess statue (Pottery Neolithic Clay):
The hoard of 429 ritual objects was discovered in a remote cave in the Judean desert. It was named the Cave of the Treasure. These are some of the treasures:
Small human figures:
Can you guess why this pottery is hanging?
It is an old churn. Since it was hanging, it was easy to rock it from side to side. And it was used to prepare the butter.
Donkeys carry goods:
Remains of Hazor temple:
I wonder whether this is the origin of the menorah?
Fish-shaped vessel from Tel Poleg (Middle Canaanite period, 19th-18th century BCE):
The open-mouthed fish was a burial gift. Its face and the inside of its mouth are decorated with punctation and engraving.
I Placed My Name There
I Placed My Name There: The Great Inscription of Tukulti-Ninurta I, King of Assyria:
This is the only complete version of the earliest and longest inscription of Tukulti-Ninurta I (ca. 1241 – 1206 BCE), a fascinating Assyrian monarch whose figure and name, “my trust is in (the god) Ninurta”, may have been the inspiration for the biblical Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12). The stele was probably placed in a wall of the building the construction of which it commemorates: the new palace that the king built in Assur, Assyria’s capital.
Despite its primary purpose as a foundation record, much of the inscription narrates the king’s first military successes. The text concludes with blessings on the future king expected to maintain the building and the inscription itself, followed by curses upon any ruler who might eradicate the building and its builder’s name.
Assyrian Wall Relief
Wall relief depicting a stylized date palm flanked by protective genies (Nimrud, Assyria; Reign of Ashurnasirpal II, 883-859 BCE):
This wall relief is quite large (height: 157 cm, width: 203 cm and diam: 1.7 cm) and very impressive. Here is additional info about it:
A stylized date-palm tree flanked by two winged human-headed genies appears on many wall slabs decorating the North-West Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II, built in his newly founded capital, Nimrud. The numerous repetitions of this pictorial theme throughout the royal buildings testify to the significance of the scene, despite the lack of related written sources. The motif of a tree with two genies may be a symbolic representation of the pollination of date palms, implying the bestowal of abundance on the entire kingdom.
Three aspects of this slab are of special interest: its relatively small size, its twenty-six-line cuneiform Standard Inscription (most of which tells of the territorial expansion of Assyria) stretching from shoulder to mid-calf, and its large signs. Although the exact original placement of the slab is unknown, the evidence suggests that it originated either in the east wing of the North-West Palace or the Temple of Ninurta north of it, both probably dated early in the building process of Nimrud.
Heated bath from Herod’s Palace in Herodium:
The Battle Of Lachish
The battle of Lachish (replica):
This relief provides a realistic depiction of the conquest of Lachish in 701 BCE. It graced the walls of an entire hall in the palace of King Sennacherib at Nineveh, underscoring the significance of this victory from the Assyrian perspective.
On the left, the Assyrian soldiers, armed from head to toe, attack the city, aided by a siege ramp and battering ram. Opposite them, the Judahite defenders stand atop the walls, raining arrows, torches, and sling stones down on their attackers. In the center, the Assyrian soldiers impale captives on poles and carry off spoils, while families of Judahite refugees head into exile, their possessions laden on carts. The right side of the relief depicts Sennacherib reviewing the procession of captives and booty. The legend reads: “Sennacherib, King of the World, King of Assyria, sat upon a Nemedu-throne and the spoil from Lachish passed in review before him.”
Original in The British Museum, London
All these ritual objects were found smashed and buried in a pit. They belong to the Edomite religion, and it is a sign of past religion conflicts. Well, not much has changed since then.
Jewish Art And Life
We have finished with archaeology and continued to Wing for Jewish Art and Life. We started with Illuminating the Script – display of rare medieval and Renaissance Hebrew manuscripts.
Mishneh Torah by Maimonides (Northern Italy, 1457):
The Nuremberg Mahzor (Germany, 1331):
One thing that surprised me is the paintings. All these books have many colorful pictures. The modern versions of these books usually do not have arts at all. Maybe it’s because the color was status symbol back then (it was expensive).
Italian (Venice, the first half of 18 century) Torah Scroll case with decorations:
Vittorio Veneto Synagogue
Jewish Art and Life Wing also have several synagogues. The first one we visited was Vittorio Veneto synagogue:
The synagogue from which this interior comes stood in the small town of Vittorio Veneto near Venice. For more than two hundred years it served a small local Ashkenazi community, which had been settled in the area since the Middle Ages. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Jews moved to larger centers, and by the end of First World War, the synagogue was no longer in use.
The original synagogue occupied the second and third stories of a simple building. This modesty was customary in Italy before the Jews were emancipated, the result of local restrictions and the Jews’ own desire to avoid drawing attention to their synagogue. The interior, however, is elegantly designed in typical Italian Baroque style, rather like a reception room in an aristocrat’s palace. Clear examples of this style are the broken pediment of the Torah ark and the shimmering surface of its carved decoration.
The interior plan is typical of Italian bipolar synagogues: they placed the reader’s desk in a niche opposite the Torah ark and benches are set along the long walls facing the center. The women’s section is located on the upper level, running along all four walls and recalling theatre galleries of the time.
In 1965 the interior was transferred in its entirety to the Israel Museum, where it has been faithfully reconstructed. The only alteration has to do with the orientation of the synagogue –: because of building constraints, the Torah ark, originally on the eastern wall nearest to Jerusalem, is now part of the northern wall.
And this is the Kadavumbagam Synagogue:
From the 16th century, the Kadavumbagam (“by the side of the landing place“) synagogue stood at the edge of the Jewish neighborhood in the town of Cochin, India, apparently built over the ruins of an even earlier synagogue. Its carved wooden interior came to include a beautiful ceiling featuring motifs like those found in the surrounding mosques and Hindu temples.
According to local tradition, the Jewish community of Cochin is approximately two thousand years old. It started in Cranganore (Shingly) on the southwest coast of India and relocated to Cochin and nearby towns in the 14th century. The Kadavumbagam synagogue, built by the veteran community known as Malabaris, was one of eight temples in this area.
A unique feature of Cochin synagogues is the presence of two reader’s platforms: one, used on Sabbath and holidays, is located on the gallery, in front of the women’s section and separated from it by a grill. Prayers used the other stands in the center of the hall for daily praying. The synagogue was oriented northwest, toward Jerusalem. Wooden benches were ranged around the lower reader’s platform and adjacent to the walls. They covered the floor with carpets or mats on which worshipers walked barefoot.
In the early 1950s, most Cochin Jews immigrated to Israel, and the Kadavumbagam synagogue Torah ark was transferred to Moshav Nehalim. The building, used as a workshop for the production of ropes, was in danger of being demolished. In 1991 synagogue interior was purchased for the Israel Museum and brought to Jerusalem for restoration and reconstruction.
Kadavumbagam Synagogue is unique. First of all, it is from India, and I had no idea there were ancient synagogues in India. And secondly, I have never seen the wooden interior in temples.
Synagogue From Suriname
And if we are talking about different temples, then take a look at this one:
Founded in Paramaribo, the capital city of Suriname, in 1736, the Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue is a typical example of Spanish and Portuguese synagogues in the New World.
The Republic of Suriname is a tropical country situated on the northern coast of South America, just above Brazil. In the mid-17th century Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin, who had fled to Holland during the Inquisition, were among the early European settlers in Suriname. They established sugarcane plantations along the Suriname River, to which they gave biblical names, and founded a village in the Savanna, which they called “Jerusalem on the Riverside.” Also referred to as the Jewish Savanna, it became the center of this remote colony until the middle of the 18th century, when most of the Jews moved to Paramaribo.
Tzedek ve-Shalom Synagogue Architecture
Formerly situated in the middle of a large courtyard, the Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue is a neoclassical wooden building, rectangular and painted white. Flanked by three arched windows, the central entrance leads to a vast basilica-like hall whose salient features are typical of the Spanish and Portuguese tradition. The reader’s platform (tevah) is located opposite the Torah ark (heikhal). The benches for the congregants run along the walls, facing the center, and among them are more prominent seats dedicated to the leaders of the community (parnassim) and the head of the community. And grand brass chandeliers of Dutch manufacture, inscribed with the names of the donors who offered them to the synagogue, hang from the ceiling and between the colonnades.
Allied with these features are others which are characteristic of the local, regional architecture, such as the bright, symmetrical structure; the white walls and large windows that invite the sunlight; and the sand-coated floor.
Directly inspired by the Esnoga, the great Portuguese synagogue of Amsterdam, the Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue reverberates with old memories while embodying original architectural features. It is a clear reflection of the character of the Jewish community of Suriname – a community that enjoyed relative freedom of worship and took an active part in the life of the surrounding society.
Yep, Suriname. The interior is made of white wood, and the floor (only those parts where people don’t walk) is covered with sand (as it initially was).
Jewish artifacts from different parts of the world:
Here is dual functioning jewelry. The apparent function is beauty and status. But the less obvious is what materials were incorporated into this necklace. When touching the skin, this necklace gave off a strong fragrance (that was believed to ward off evils spirits).
Then we headed to the Fine Arts wing. But, it was already quite late, so we did not adequately cover it.
One of the galleries:
Restoration of a Venetian 18th-century room:
The art from the Americas:
We exited the museum’s building and headed toward the Shrine of the Book. One of the statues we saw on the way:
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Before entering the Shrine Of The Book, I want to mention the Dead Sea Scrolls. The reason being is that Shrine Of The Book was constructed to house those scrolls.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts that were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves near Khirbet Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea.
They are approximately two thousand years old, dating from the third century BCE to the first century CE. Most of the scrolls were written in Hebrew, with a smaller number in Aramaic or Greek. Most of them were written on parchment, except a few written on papyrus. The vast majority of the scrolls survived as fragments – only a handful were found intact. Nevertheless, scholars have managed to reconstruct from these fragments approximately 950 different manuscripts of various lengths.
The manuscripts fall into three major categories: biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian. The biblical manuscripts comprise some two hundred copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, representing the earliest evidence for the biblical text in the world. Among the apocryphal papers (works that were not included in the Jewish biblical canon) are works that had previously been known only in translation, or that had not been known at all. The sectarian manuscripts reflect a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious-legal writings, liturgical texts, and apocalyptic compositions. Most scholars believe that the scrolls formed the library of the sect that lived at Qumran. However, it appears that the members of this sect wrote only part of the manuscripts themselves, the remainder having been composed or copied elsewhere.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls represents a turning point in the study of the history of the Jewish people in ancient times, for never before has a literary treasure of such magnitude come to light. Thanks to these remarkable finds, our knowledge of Jewish society in the Land of Israel during the Hellenistic and Roman periods as well as the origins of rabbinical Judaism and early Christianity has been greatly enriched.
Shrine Of The Book
The Shrine of the Book was built as a repository for the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947. The unique white dome embodies the lids of the jars in which the first scrolls were found. This symbolic building, a kind of sanctuary intended to express profound spiritual meaning, is considered an international landmark of modern architecture. Designed by American Jewish architects Armand P. Bartos and Frederic J. Kiesler, it was dedicated in an impressive ceremony on April 20, 1965.
Its location next to official institutions of the State of Israel—the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), principal government offices, and the Jewish National and University Library—is appropriate considering the degree of national importance that has been accorded the ancient texts and the building that preserves them.
The contrast between the white dome and the black wall alongside it alludes to the tension evident in the scrolls between the spiritual world of the “Sons of Light” (as the Judean Desert sectarians called themselves) and the “Sons of Darkness” (the sect’s enemies). The corridor leading into the Shrine resembles a cave, recalling the site where the ancient manuscripts were discovered.
Shrine of the Book and the Knesset:
Did you know that you can tour at the Knesset? For additional info check out Knesset – The Parliament Tours.
When Shrine of the Book opened, you could see the original scrolls. But, since the manuscripts can be damaged by light and humidity, they were stored in a safe place. Today, you can see only one original page (and every once in a while they change which page you can see), and all the rest are replicas.
Besides the scrolls, there are many related exhibits, and you can easily spend an hour inside.
Note: photography inside Shrine of the Book is prohibited.
When we exited Shrine of the Book, we saw the NANO Bible exhibition.
On the occasion of the Museum’s 50th anniversary, a new exhibition space in the Shrine of the Book is inaugurated with this display of a cutting-edge version of the Bible – a gilt nano chip the size of a sugar grain, on which the entire Bible is inscribed. Illustrating the power of nanotechnology, this high-tech miracle was created in the laboratories of Haifa’s Technion Institute using a technique recalling stone engraving. The text engraved on the chip needs to be magnified 10,000 times to be legible. The exhibition takes the Book of Books on a journey from antiquity to the present – from the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls to the 21st-century Nano Bible.
And this is the small nano chip containing the Bible (the little spot in the center of the lower glass column):
Second Temple Model
Behind Shrine of the Book, you can find the Second Temple Model.
This 50:1 scale model, covering nearly one acre, evokes ancient Jerusalem at its peak, meticulously recreating its topography and architectural character in 66 CE, the year in which the Great Revolt against the Romans broke out, leading to the destruction of the Temple and the city in the year 70 CE.
The model, a Jerusalem cultural landmark, was originally built at the initiative of Holyland Hotel owner Hans Kroch in memory of his son Jacob, who fell in Israel’s War of Independence. Kroch argued that Israel in general, and in particular its capital Jerusalem – which was cut off from the Old City at the time – lacked a historical monument that could compare with the antiquities of Athens and Rome.
Panorama of the Second Temple Model:
Around the model, you can see explanation signs.
That was our final point of interest inside the Israel Museum, and we went toward the exit. We visited the souvenir shop next to the exit, and there I saw these Zion’s Action Figures.
Old City Of Jerusalem At Night
Next, we headed toward the Old City for a short walk. But since I have a dedicated post to the Old City Of Jerusalem, in this post, I will only show several photos.
Closer view of the Western Wall:
Outside Jaffa gate:
It is late and time to end the day.
Israel Museum as well as several other popular museums in Jerusalem, like the Bloomfield Science Museum, is open on Shabbat. Its opening hours on Saturday are 10:30 am – 4 pm.
You can find additional information in the opening hours section.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are inside the Shrine Of The Book, which is in Israel Museum complex. And if you want to learn more about the scrolls, then you should visit it. But, keep in mind that you will see only one original page.
As mentioned above, the scrolls are approximately two thousand years old, dating from the third century BCE to the first century CE.
Israel Museum is quite big, and the typical visit will take a half-day to a full day depending on what areas you will visit. And if we use the big data, then according to Google: “People typically spend up to 3 hours here”.
You can see the museum’s plan, at the beginning of this post.
Israel Museum in Jerusalem is one of the best and the biggest museums in Israel. If you are going to visit only one museum in Israel, this should probably be it. And if you are interested in archeology, ancient findings or Judaism then this definitely should be it.
Visiting duration will depend on your interests and what is shown in the temporary exhibitions area (check out the official site to find out current exhibitions). But, in general, most people will spend several hours up to a full day.
Have you ever visited the Israel Museum in Jerusalem? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Sea Of Galilee.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.